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Money The bold Brunette: Vancouver entrepreneur building an empire, one sweatshirt at a time

19:56  14 june  2018
19:56  14 june  2018 Source:

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For Miriam Alden, success in the fashion industry has been a relatively slow, steady climb.

While her “Brunette” and “Blonde” sweaters from her brand Brunette the Label can now be spotted virtually everywhere — from the racks of Nordstrom to the scrolling photo feeds of social media — she admits her label was anything but an overnight success.

“I would say it was a bunch of little things,” she says when asked to pinpoint the so-called ‘ah-ha’ moment for the brand.

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But, when prodded to ponder further, Alden pinpointed two events she felt had major influence.

In the early stages of her line, Alden agreed to do a last-minute pop-up shop at Nordstrom in Pacific Centre at the same time as she was planning a runway show at Vancouver Fashion Week. While the events were stressful, they turned out to be key turning points for the company.

“The call from Nordstrom was pretty major for me,” Alden admits of the communication that eventually led to her brand being carried in the Seattle-based retailer’s stores.

Soon after, Alden says she found people were searching out her label at trade shows and online.

“They were coming up to us asking, ‘Do you have Brunette the Label?,” she recalls with a smile. The label was also given a nod by Gwyneth Paltrow’s team at Goop and has since been picked up by Australia’s largest department store, Myer.

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Safe to say, the brand has taken off.

Speaking from the Brunette the Label flagship store at 231 Union St. in Chinatown, dressed in a lavender sweatshirt emblazoned with her now-trademarked design, black skinny jeans and Balenciaga sneakers, her beloved boxer Frederick lounging happily at her feat, Alden reminisced on her climb through the retail ranks.

“I had always wanted to work in fashion,” she says. “I really, really loved the business side.”

After taking a turn as a fit model (a personal history note she openly rolls her eyes at), the North Vancouverite started on with the local brand Kersh where she worked for five years helping to build the brand, working on the showroom and sales side.

“I love the sales side of the business,” Alden says, admitting she even enjoyed those first few cold calls she’d make as a young entrepreneur trying to get her lines noticed.

During her time at Kersh, Alden dabbled in writing, creating style columns for a few local publications, as well as styling a few photo shoots.

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“I realized I was really quite horrible at styling,” she admits with a raucous laugh. “It’s funny, I can put together a collection no problem, but I’m not a great stylist.”

For that, she turns to her colleague, and longtime friend, Ryan Pugsley. The duo met at Kersh and have worked together, on and off, ever since.

While her time at Kersh eventually came to an end, Alden maintained her connection with the Vancouver-based company — Kersh now manufactures Brunette the Label designs. For Alden, success in business is all about building relationships.

“At the end of the day, you really only have your value and your morals,” she says. “It’s all about the relationships.”

After leaving the clothing company, Alden laughingly recounts the route her business experience took her next.

“I had this business where I would buy pashminas, box them up and sell them to businesses,” she recalls. “I would literally drive around and sell pashminas out of my car.”

While she laughs at the memory, that enterprising mentality is what eventually prompted her to start her own jewelry line, the now-defunct line Alden Rae, and finally her own showroom in 2009, representing brands such as BB Dakota, k Lisbeth and Cupcakes and Cashmere, which she still operates today. The name was Brunette Showroom.

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While representing the various brands, Alden and Pugsley travelled throughout North America for trade shows, where they made connections and forged relationships with independent retailers. It was at these events that Brunette the Label was born.

“Ryan and I would host media events for the showroom. And Ryan made a backpack with Brunette is the New Black,” she says. “And then, we made a sweatshirt and I wore it to a Las Vegas trade show.”

The reaction to the one-off design was immediate.

“People were like, ‘I would totally wear that’,” she recalls.

So Alden did a test run of 12 sweatshirts. And they sold out. So she made 24. And those sold out, too.

“Six months later, we made our first small collection and took it on the road to all the trade shows,” she says. “The bonus was that I already had all the relationships and I already understood wholesale really well.”

While Alden’s instinct to create “clothes for people who want something cute to wear that’s not too complicated” has proved to be a success, so too has her playful approach to girl power and female empowerment.

“I believe in it, through and through,” she says of her “Babes Supporting Babes” approach. “I’m a girls’ girl through and through.”

What started as sweatshirts with “Brunette” and “Blonde,” quickly grew to include a full range of slogan sweaters and separates ranging from “Babes Who Brunch” and “Rosé Okay” to “Paris Made Me Do It” and “I Definitely Did Not Wake Up Like This.”

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“Everything we do is quite light,” she says. “Even though we have strong opinions, I don’t believe in shoving your opinion into someone’s face.”

Alden admits she initially faced some backlash over the babe moniker, as people felt she was using the word in the same way it’s often used, synonymously for “good looking” or having a “good body.” But she stood behind the design.

“It’s taking the word back from a negative connotation and turning it into a non-physical attribute,” she says.

This, after all, is a woman who fiercely believes in supporting and empowering those around her. It’s a mentality, she learned from a young age through her close-knit family. Alden’s mom raised four kids while working full time. Her stepmom, before she married Alden’s dad, also worked as she raised two children on her own.

“Neither of those two people were given anything,” she says. “But you can’t do everything on your own.”

And that’s where Alden’s supportive stance comes into play. When she first started her own showroom, she says the industry wasn’t supportive of her new endeavour.

“I thought, that’s not the kind of business I want to have,” she says. “And it kind of evolved from there.”

Faced with more than a few cold shoulders, she vowed to support fellow entrepreneurs whenever she could.

“I think it’s a choice,” she says of the inclusive approach. “I genuinely believe there is room for everybody.”

Alden is quick to point out that her biggest support system as her business has grown, has been through her friends, family and her Brunette team.

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“Every single one of my friends was at every single one of my events buying every single piece of clothing,” she says. “And (my team) all are such a huge part of the company, and take on the business with so much love and care.

“Babes Supporting Babes starts from the inside out, and they are my biggest supporters.”

Alden’s all-in mindset has been put to the test in recent seasons as copies of her popular slogan sweaters and athleisure-wear have popped up at other retailers in stores and online.

“It’s wild,” she says of the number of copycat garments one Google search can yield of Brunette designs. “That’s where my moral compass gets really challenged.”

It’s something Alden admits she can’t spend too much time thinking about.

“It can be consuming,” she says. So, rather than focus on the fakes, Alden and her team have implemented a positivity clause, of sorts, at their workplace.

“We have a moral value system in the office, which is to assume positive intent,” she says. “To just assume that people are doing their best and that it’s not directed at you. Because, if not, I think it can be consuming.”

Copycats aside, one question remains for Alden before she’s rushes on to another meeting: What’s with the whole ‘Brunette’ and ‘Blonde’ thing?

“When I started my business, my name wasn’t that easy to remember. So, I was the tall girl with the dark brown hair,” she says. “And I figured, if they didn’t remember the name of me or my showroom, they would go, ‘Oh, it was that Brunette.'”

Plus, there’s a bit of a family tie there, too.

“My sister is blonde and I’m brunette,” she adds with a smile.

And the rest, is history.

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